Using flash cards

There are lots of ways to use flashcards. Here are just some of them.

Jo Budden

Memory activities
Example activity: 
Memory tester

  • Place a selection of flash cards on the floor in a circle.
  • Students have one minute to memorise the cards.
  • In groups, they have two minutes to write as many of the names as they can remember.

Drilling activities
Example activity: 
A what?

  • Students sit in a circle.
  • You show a flash card to Student 1 and say 'This is a hamster.'
  • Student 1 looks at the flash card and asks you, 'A what?'
  • The teacher replies 'A hamster' and passes the flash card on.
  • Student 1 passes the flash card on to Student 2 and says 'This is a hamster'.
  • Student 2 asks Student 1 'A what?', Student 1 asks the teacher 'A what?', and the teacher replies to Student 1 'A hamster', Student 1 replies to Student 2 'A hamster,' and so it goes on until the flash card travels full circle.
  • When the group has mastered it, two flash cards can go around the circle in opposite directions. They will cross over mid circle.
  • When students know the game, choose one of them to play the teacher's role.

Identification activities
Example activity: 
Fast Finger

  • Stick flash cards on the board or on the wall (for very little people who won't reach the board!) in a line.
  • Give a clue to indicate which flash card you are thinking of. When presenting a new lexical set for the first time, give the whole word, e.g. 'Say stop when the fast finger is above the cat'. When revising, or with higher levels, you can just give a clue, e.g. 'It's an animal that can't fly, but it can climb trees.'
  • Ask students to shout 'stop' when your finger is above the required flash card.
  • Then bounce your finger along in a random fashion to a silly tune until they shout 'stop' at the right time.
  • When they get the idea, ask a student to be the Fast Finger.
  • You can also use word cards instead of a finger. When the word is above the corresponding picture flash card students shout 'stop'.

TPR activities
Example activity: 

  • Students sit in two lines facing each other with legs out and feet touching.
  • Each facing pair is shown a flash card that they must remember. When you call out their card they stand up and run over the legs of the others, the ladder, around the back and back to their places.
  • The first one back wins a point for their line. If the students are very lively you can do it standing up to avoid trampled legs!
Language Level


Submitted by steveneufeld on Sun, 06/12/2011 - 09:48


While research does seem to indicate that flashcards can provide a useful strategy for learning vocabulary, there are still many teachers who favour the serendipity of learning words as and when the learner finds them interesting/attractive.


This article does suggest that the 'ah ha' moment of discovery when a learner connects to a word is critical. Not sure if this applies as much to L2 as it might to L1, or the role of McMurray's fastmapping theory.  Like all things, probably a balance is needed, with a definite role for corpus-informed approaches and data-driven learning, using resources like Tom Cobb's lextutor at

Submitted by egal on Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:43


Thank you so much for these activities: VAK learners will definitely learn! I will try "A what?" and "Fast fingers" with my young learners right this week.

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